Along with Brussels Sprouts, something else that says winter, Christmas and Season of Cheer to me is marzipan. Not that it isn’t available year round in the home-baking isle of most supermarkets these days, of course. But just as I avoid sprouts unless they’re fresh in from the cold, I don’t much crave marzipan unless the nights start early and last long into the morning.
One of my favourite treats, growing up, was sitting curled in a corner with a good book and a plate of marzipan potatoes to hand. Given enough time, I could literally snaffle a bag of the things. Not a hardship at all.
Then there were marzipan loaves, wrapped in gaudily coloured foil. And marzipan hearts, dipped in dark chocolate. And dominoes made from layers of gingerbread, marzipan and orange jelly. Marzipan was a thing, and I loved it.
And then I came to England and almost lost my taste for it. Why? Because west of the Berlin Wall marzipan was just too sweet to appeal to me. I would buy a loaf now and then when the craving hit, only to end up disappointed. Even the famous Lübecker Marzipan tasted too cloying to me.
So, you can guess what comes next, right?
Of course I’m channelling Gareth…
Traditional marzipan is a mix of almonds, icing sugar, and egg. So, my first attempts were all about reducing the amount of sugar. Which works, even though the result doesn’t come quite close enough to my childhood memories. So, then I wondered whether I could leave out the eggs. After all, the marzipan I grew up with wasn’t butter yellow but rather pale and interesting.
My ideal marzipan recipe was still a work in progress when I started looking to cut refined carbs from my diet, read food blogs until my vision blurred and… came across an idea. Dates. Instead of icing sugar and eggs.
And what do you know?
The result isn’t quite as pale as I’m used to – the dates see to that – but the taste is almost pitch perfect.
Making this version of marzipan yourself couldn’t be easier. Just blitz one quantity of dates with two quantities of almonds – I’m making mine in batches of 50g of dates and 100g of almonds – in a food processor until the mix starts to come together. Then tip it out and shape gently into a ball or log, depending on what you’re planning to use it for.
A few handy hints:
- Add a teaspoon of water to the food processor if your dates are a bit dry.
- Chill for about 15-20 minutes in the fridge before using, or chill when you’re making shapes and find your hands start to go greasy
- If I’m making this using ground almonds rather than whole ones, I like to add a little dribble of almond essence and maybe a touch of vanilla to the mix.
Apart from that, find your best cocoa powder to dregde your chilled marzipan balls and enjoy. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with keeping a huge box of marzipan potatoes in the fridge for December-shaped emergencies…